Orlando Sentinel


- — Amy Drew Thompson

Readers clicked in by the thousands during Round 1 of this year’s awards. We saw more than 72,000 votes for the top three finalists in more than 50 restaurant categories. See who made the cut.

Wow. This was hard. But you guys did a lot of work, too.

Orlando Sentinel readers clicked into the 22nd Annual Orlando Sentinel Foodie Awards by the thousands to try and nominate their favorites to the head of the pack during round one of this year’s awards. During round two, we saw more than 72,000 votes — up from more than 55,000 votes last year — for the top three finalists in more than 50 restaurant categories.

And then, with some enormous shoes to fill (nod to Scott Joseph, Heather McPherson and Lauren Delgado, who have collective­ly honored Central Florida’s best eateries for the past two+ decades), I had to make my picks, too. But, next year, I’ll have a larger pool from which to consider, in large part because of the readers, whose nomination­s brought to my attention a massive list of restaurant­s I’ve never even heard of. And I plan to visit many of them in the coming year.

So, be on the lookout for some of your favorites before too long in the Orlando Sentinel. I look forward to the great tastings ahead. And thank you — for reading and for sharing your love of all things food with me. Together, we offer up our picks to the readership and spread the word about the best venues our region has to offer.

It’s the 22nd year of the Orlando Sentinel Foodie Awards, and after one round of reader nomination­s and more than 72,000 votes in the second round, here are the Critic’s Choice and the Readers’ Choice winners in more than 50 restaurant categories.

Best African

My heart calls a tie between Nile Ethiopian and Selam Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine. I’d been dining at Nile for some time before Selam came into the picture, digging through dishes like meaty, peppery gored gored (a raw beef dish) and flavorful, almost creamy kik alicha (yellow split peas) with that soft, spongy injera. And Nile’s wonderful Ethiopian coffee ceremony is a feast for all the senses (and a boon to productivi­ty post-meal if you manage not to overstuff yourself, which frankly is unlikely). That said, Selam is an equally “handsy” experience. Also delicious. Also an exceedingl­y pleasant experience with exceptiona­l service. Alas, life is full of tough choices, so I’m pulling the trigger and putting Selam in the top spot. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Selam Ethiopian & Eritrean Cuisine (5954 Central Florida Parkway in Orlando; 407-778-3119)

• Runners-Up: Nile Ethiopian (Orlando) and Boma — Flavors of Africa (Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Boma —

Flavors of Africa (Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge)

• Runners-Up: Nile Ethiopian (Orlando) and Jiko: The Cooking Place (Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge)

Best bakery

Don’t take my word for it, Sister Honey’s Evette Rahman is a two-time winner of the World Food Championsh­ips’ Dessert Category. Two times. That’s no easy feat. And whether you stop into her SoDo bakery for simple snickerdoo­dles, pistachio cake (my personal favorite) or what my boss called “possibly the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had in my life,” there are no bad choices — anywhere — in this craft, quality cakery. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Sister Honey’s (247 E. Michigan St. in Orlando; 407-730-7315)

• Runners-Up: Buttermilk Bakery: (Winter Park) and Light on the Sugar Bakery Cafe (Winter Park) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Charlie’s Gourmet Pastries (3213 Curry Ford Road in Orlando; 407-898-9561)

• Runners-Up: Buttermilk Bakery (Winter Park) and Crave Bakehouse (Mount Dora)

Best barbecue

Pig Floyd’s has been a force in the 407 BBQ scene for ages now, and the Latin-infused goodness coming out of the smokers has not slowed down a bit.

We’ve gotten to know Pig Floyd’s over the years. It’s become familiar, but back at the beginning, it took the city by smoky, sweet storm. Conversely, Kissimmee’s Big John’s Rockin BBQ is traditiona­l, tried-and-true. Git-NMessy-BBQ is a newbie on the scene — having shut its doors in its Sanford gas station location to reemerge in a Winter Park Citgo — where original sauces accompany tender ribs, brisket and homemade, jalapeno and cheese-infused sausage, just to name a few solid goodies. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa (1326 N. Mills Ave. in Orlando, 407-203-0866; 9680 Narcoossee Road in Orlando, 407-730-7376)

• Runners-Up: Big John’s Rockin’ BBQ (Kissimmee) and Git-NMessy-BBQ (Orlando)

Readers’ Choice

• Winner: Pig Floyd’s Urban Barbakoa (1326 N. Mills Ave. in Orlando, 407-203-0866; 9680 Narcoossee Road in Orlando, 407-730-7376)

• Runners-Up: 4 Rivers Smokehouse (multiple locations) and The Hog & Dog (Apopka)

Best breakfast

Now headed into its fourth decade feeding the denizens of Park Avenue, Briarpatch hasn’t slowed a bit. Weekend waits, however, can be. So I suggest opting for weekday breakfast, if schedule permits. Its impressive selection offers up decadent classics like raspberrya­nd brie-stuffed French toast, short rib benedict with chipotle Hollandais­e and interestin­g alternativ­es to the mimosa, like the bourbon blackberry lemonade cocktail. Better make plans for the gym. Artisan’s Table has the standard fare, done well

above standard, but my favorite is the Japanese Bowl, featuring two eggs atop sticky rice with scallions, bacon, togarashi …

mmm. The yolk porn is slow and spectacula­r. Don’t want to linger? Get in, get out, get some with Orlando Meats’ Egg Meatmuffin, a breakfast show you can take on the road. Critic’s Choice

• Winner: Briarpatch Restaurant (252 N. Park Ave., #3814, in Winter Park; 407-628-8651)

• Runners-Up: Artisan’s Table (Orlando) and Orlando Meats (Orlando) Readers’ Choice

• Winner: White Wolf Cafe & Bar (1829 N. Orange Ave. in Orlando; 407-895-9911)

• Runners-Up: Shakers American Cafe (Orlando) and AJ’s Press (Longwood)

Best brewery

Full disclosure: I haven’t made it into the newer Curry Ford location of Hourglass Brewing just yet, but if it’s even half as beernerdy as the Longwood original, I’m sold. Most craft breweries are helmed by a bunch of folks who started brewing suds in their garages, but Hourglass’ level of geekdom and excitement over its myriad pours is infectious. You can learn while you drink here. Or,

you can just drink beer that ranges from familiar to wildly creative and unlearn the stuff you already know. It’s a fun ride either way. Critic’s Choice

• Winner: Hourglass Brewing (480 S. Ronald Reagan Blvd. in Longwood, 407-262-0056; 2500 Curry Ford Road in Orlando, 407-730-5249)

• Runners-Up: Sideward Brewing (Orlando) and Wolf Branch Brewing Co. (Eustis) Readers’ Choice

• Winner: Crooked Can Brewing Company (426 W. Plant St. in Winter Garden; 407-395-9520)

• Runners-Up: Oviedo Brewing Company (Oviedo) and Hourglass Brewing (multiple locations)

Best brunch

Between the glinting silver dim sum carts at Peter’s Kitchen and the trolley they’ll need to wheel me out after brunching at the Ravenous Pig, where there is $5 brunch punch and decadence in the form of lobster benedict, it feels like a culinary convoy in the

making. Perhaps the Weekend Warrior at The Parkview (that’s a bottle of bubbly, choice of two juices; $25) can help me wrap my mind around it. Surprising French classics and frittatas make for delightful mop-up options. Brunch is an excuse for day drinking, you know. I read it on a throw pillow somewhere. Critic’s Choice • Winner: The Ravenous Pig (565 W. Fairbanks Ave. in Winter Park; 407-628-2333)

• Runners-Up: The Parkview (Winter Park) and Peter’s Kitchen China Bistro (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Hamilton’s Kitchen Hamilton’s Kitchen (The Alfond Inn, 300 E. New England Ave. in Winter Park; 407-998-8089)

• Runners-Up: Santiago’s Bodega (Orlando) and F&D Kitchen & Bar (Lake Mary)

Best burger

What makes a burger great? The answer is mulitfold (and yes, subjective) but for me, it’s flavor. All day long. Because of this (and because I don’t want true burger lovers who may not be interested in Mexican or Portuguese food to miss it) I have to hand the blue ribbon to Bem Bom on Corrine’s lamb burger, which has so many wonderful flavors, layers of them that you can taste both individual­ly and as they coalesce with one another. It simply cannot be ignored. Taglish is known for its FilipinoAm­erican melange, but lovers of a good handheld should not miss the longaniza burger, another complex (yet simple, it’s a burger!) gem comprised of house-made sweet sausage. For un-swayable traditiona­lists, I submit That One Spot in Ocoee, where the Crunch Burger’s blue cheese and horseradis­h sauce and potato chip combo is seriously oh my! But you can just as easily build your own for a sublime experience. (Plus they have chicken, salmon and veggie, too.) Critic’s Choice • Winner: Bem Bom (3101 Corrine Drive in Orlando; 407-960-5101)

• Runners-Up: Taglish (Orlando) and That One Spot (Ocoee) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Hannibal’s on the Square (511 W. New England Ave. in Winter Park; 407-599-2929)

• Runners-Up: The Taproom at Dubsdread (Orlando) and the Hangry Bison (Orlando)

Best Caribbean

Carbs are universal, whether that’s rice, pasta, bread or — in the case of Puerto Rico’s wonderfull­y starchy mofongo — plantains. I also love sweet maduros, so pliable and tender with crispy-sweet caramelize­d edges when done right. You’ll find both of these, and many other dishes, done beautifull­y at both the No. 1 and 2 picks, where Puerto Rican and Dominican classics are served hot, fresh and generously — and for the most part cafeteria-style. Mark’s, on the other hand, deals in Jamaican fare — oxtail and curry goat are favorites. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Lechonera Latina (49998 E. Colonial Drive in Orlando; 407-249-0207)

• Runners-Up: Tropico Mofongo (Kissimmee) and Mark’s Jamaican Bar & Grill (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Mango’s Tropical Cafe (8126 Internatio­nal Drive in Orlando; 321-710-4195)

• Runners-Up: Pal Campo Restaurant (Orlando) and Caribbean Sunshine Bakery (Orlando)

Best chain restaurant

While I most often espouse the joys of dining indie and local, good food is good food. And all three of these establishm­ents, some more prolific than others, offer up some quality grub. Cuba Libre’s vibrant menu is surprising­ly solid, in particular when it comes to happy hour — where deals on both drinks and eats abound (any six food picks for $28? It’s enough for at least three people, easily!). Ocean Prime is reliably good for special-occasion meals — in particular for large groups — and Twisted Root gets the nod for it’s creative selection of game burgers, decadent shakes and that fried green bean and carrot side. It’s kind of addictive. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Cuba Libre Restaurant & Rum Bar (9101 Internatio­nal Drive in Orlando; 407-226-1600)

• Runners-Up: Ocean Prime (Orlando) and Twisted Root Burger Co. (Winter Park) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Chick-fil-A (multiple locations)

• Runners-Up: Eddie V’s Prime Seafood (multiple locations) and Seasons 52 (multiple locations)

Best cheap eats

With $1.75 tacos; soppable menudo and pozole; and well-stocked fixins and a salsa bar, this unassuming little Mexican joint in SoDo offers up a treasure trove of value and flavor. Over in Mills 50, Banh Mi Nha Trang Subs is still the sandwich stronghold to beat where price and quality (not to mention cheery service) intersect. And on

OBT, Tortas El Rey is churning out delicious (if messy) overloaded Mexican sammies, along with tacos, huaraches, burritos and more for walk-up and drive-through customers seeking the biggest bang for their buck. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Taqueria Ameca (3558 S. Orange Ave. in Orlando; 407-852-0502)

• Runners-Up: Banh Mi Nha Trang Subs (Orlando) and Tortas El Rey (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Tijuana Flats (multiple locations)

• Runners-Up: Gringos Locos (multiple locations) and AJ’s Press (Longwood)

Best Chinese

Chuan Lu’s second location in East Orlando breathed fiery new life into an old Arby’s a few years back, delighting folks out near UCF who no longer had to drive to Mills 50 for delicious scallion pancakes, cumin lamb and seriously tasty eggplant hot pot — among about a zillion other dishes. Speaking of fiery, Taste of Chengdu keeps things smokin’ with its Sichuan favorites (be on the lookout for its 2.0 in Baldwin Park this year) and tucked into a tiny corner of the i-Fresh Supermarke­t, Kai Kai Dim Sum & BBQ is a family-run joint with the best roast pork chow fun I’ve had outside New York City, which is where its proprietor began his restaurant career. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Chuan Lu Garden UCF (11891 E. Colonial Drive in Orlando; 407-282-3388)

• Runners-Up: Taste of Chengdu (Orlando) and Kai Kai Dim Sum & BBQ (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Tasty Wok (1246 E. Colonial Drive in Orlando; 407-896-8988)

• Runners-Up: Peter’s Kitchen China Bistro (Orlando) and Taste of Chengdu (Orlando)

Best coffee

Austin’s is a study in beautiful dichotomy. It’s an entirely different shop depending on when you show up, sometimes rife with students, other times with folks who could be grandparen­ts, often a vibrant mix of both. You could hear Citizen Cope on one visit, Cuban jazz the next. Devo. Rush. Billie Holiday. Whatevs. You never know. There might be a local maker’s market in the parking lot. What stays the same? There’s art, all kinds. And really good peanut butter pie. And stuff for vegans. And it’s open

24⁄7. And most importantl­y, there’s really good, Fair Trade, house-roasted coffee. Austin’s ain’t fancy. In too-bright light some might call it dingy. But, I don’t care. I love it. You might, too.

Gratitude was a local favorite long before it had a storefront, so good (coffee and pastry) that folks didn’t mind getting out of their cars for a smile and a cuppa from the charming lady in the food truck. Now they do it all, but with central air conditioni­ng! Qreate is a noob, but this exciting workspace/coffee haven is a delight of caffeinate­d beverages and crisp, clean lines, a one-two punch to clear out mental clutter and get yourself ready to create and be productive. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Austin’s Coffee & Film (929 W. Fairbanks Ave., in Winter Park; 407-975-3364)

• Runners-Up: Gratitude Coffee (Orlando); Qreate Coffee + Studio (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Foxtail Coffee Co. (multiple locations)

• Runners-Up: Lineage Coffee Roasting (two Orlando locations) and Qreate Coffee + Studio (Orlando)

Best Cuban

Six years living in Miami, and I still miss the music,

the people and, of course, the food. The Old Cuban Cafe has three locations, but the East Orlando outpost feels the most right, perhaps because one can visit in the morning for a potent pre-work colada, then come back later on for a pressed sandwich or some vaca frita — the menu is massive. Also neat: On weekends this place stays open until 1 a.m., transformi­ng into a small but quite enthusiast­ic dance club. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Old Cuban Cafe (12014 E. Colonial Drive in Orlando; 407-823-7777)

• Runners-Up: Black Bean Deli (Orlando and Winter Park) and Cuban Sandwiches to Go (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Zaza New Cuban Diner (3500 Curry Ford Road in Orlando, 407-228-0060; 380 S. State Road 434 in Altamonte Springs, 407-347-6606; 417 N. Alafaya Trail in Orlando, 407-986-5554; and 237 Wheelhouse Lane in Lake Mary, 407-494-0932)

• Runners-Up: Black Bean Deli (Orlando and Winter Park) and Cuba 1800s (Orlando)

Best dessert

There might not be a better place for dessertoph­iles than The Glass Knife. Not merely because of the luscious lookers like the Chocolate Onyx Pastry or 23-karat gold leaf adorned Southern Red Velvet cake, but because its large menu of savories allows you to blend in, as though you had no intention of ordering a Chocolate Big Wheel, for breakfast, but then decided to on a whim. Yeah, we believe you.

Cheeky monkeys delight in the deliciousl­y-devious names that match the desserts and “rim job” cocktails at Better Than Sex, while fans of brick toast desserts will delight in Krungthep Tea Time’s sweet, sinful selection. Critic’s Choice • Winner: The Glass Knife (276 S. Orlando Ave., in Winter Park; 407-500-CAKE)

• Runners-Up: Better Than Sex (Orlando) and Krungthep Tea Time (Winter Park) Readers’ Choice • Winner: The Glass Knife (276 S. Orlando Ave., in Winter Park; 407-500-CAKE)

• Runners-Up: Blue Bird Bake Shop (Orlando) and Charlie’s Gourmet Pastries (Orlando)

Best diner

Generally speaking, in northern cities, a diner has one kind of feel. Southern ones, another. Few split the diff as well as Oviedo’s much- beloved Town House Restaurant, where you can get delicious, Greek diner-style gyro meat and

fresh, bright tzatziki sauce alongside your eggs right next to a country gravyslath­ered house-made biscuit that’s soft in all the right places. When the Town House moved just up the street from the small digs it enjoyed since opening in the ’50s, many locals groaned about the loss of a treasure. In its newer space, though, those weekend waits are shorter, the food’s just as good and the old sign has a charming place on the facade. Critic’s Choice • Winner: The Town House Restaurant (139 N. Central Ave. in Oviedo; 407-365-5151)

• Runners-Up: Dixie Belle’s Cafe (Orlando) and Nick’s Family Diner (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Linda’s Winter Park Diner (1700 W. Fairbanks Ave. in Winter Park) • Runners-Up: Mary’s Kountry Kitchen (Tavares) and Shakers American Cafe (Orlando) Best doughnuts

I can’t say no to the classics, and Donut King — with locations in Clermont and Winter Park — is classic, top to bottom. That’s whether the bottom is a classic, simply glazed chocolate cake doughnut or it’s topped with a glut of cereal, crushed candy bars or, in the case of my favorite (maple-bacon), a whole lot of cured pork. Dochi Donuts’ mochi/doughnut hybrids are so darn cute, I almost wish I could wear them. Almost. And, out in East Orlando, Valkyrie’s big, fluffy, vegan offerings prove it is still hip to be square. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Donut King (208 S. Highway 27 in Minneola, 352-243-4046; 3716 Howell Branch Road in Winter Park, 321-316-4817)

• Runners-Up: Valkyrie Doughnuts (Orlando) and Dochi Donuts (11 a.m.-3 p.m. weekends, upstairs at East End Market in Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Donut King (208 S. Highway 27 in Minneola, 352-243-4046; 3716 Howell Branch Road in Winter Park, 321-316-4817)

• Runners-Up: Crave Bakehouse (Mount Dora) and DG Doughnuts (Oakland and Orlando) Best food truck

“Pastronome­r” George Markward makes his mouth-melty pastrami right in the truck. He makes the artisan bread himself, too. I don’t know if he makes the mustard, but I’d believe him if he said yes. Because it’s the perfect mustard for the perfect, classic sandwich you never thought you could get outside a deli more than 100 years old. Along with classics, like lox on a bagel or potato latkes, you’ll find mad scientist hybrids, like the Reuben tacos — pretty much exactly what you’d imagine, except it tastes even better. Relative newcomers, Ceylon Hut (thank you, Adelaide Chen, for the recommenda­tion!) is teaching Orlando tummies to love, one Sri Lankan curry at a time, while the Midnight Sun is about as chill as you can get, serving up artisan ice cream sandwiches that taste as good as they look. Critic’s Choice • Winner: The Pastrami Project (pastramipr­oject.com; facebook.com/ ThePastram­iProject)

• Runners-Up: Ceylon Hut (facebook.com/ceylonhut), Midnight Sun Ice Cream Sandwich Co. (midnightsu­nicecream.com; instagram.com/midnightsu­nic) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Take A Sushi (14851 State Road 535 in Orlando)

• Runners-Up: Cholo King (cholodogs.com) and Chimiking Food Truck (chimikingr­estaurant.com/ food-trucks) Best French

It’s cozy and intimate, and you could easily breeze right past it as you head for a livelier section of Winter Park’s Park Avenue. But if you do, you’ve missed a tiny gem, one that’s been around since the ’80s. I only arrived in the aughts, but in that time, have found Café De France to be charming, romantic, warm and quite enjoyable. Reminiscen­t of the small, tucked away bistros you’d find in older sections of historic cities. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Café de France (526 S. Park Ave. in Winter Park; 407-647-1869)

• Runners-Up: Le Cafe de Paris (Orlando) and Croissant Gourmet (Winter Park) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Chez Vincent (533 W. New England Ave. in Winter Park; 407-599-2929)

• Runners-Up: Le Coq au Vin (Orlando) and Claire’s Creperie (Mount Dora) Best frozen treats

Amen to Orlando weather (and that there are so many delicious ways to cool off in this town). Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream is a universal favorite and expanded its hometown empire this year with a cute, new shop in Oviedo. Over on Howell Branch in Winter Park, Rainbow Sno-Cones (which by the way has been chilling out folks in the 407 since 1994; its original location was in Kelly’s spot in Audubon Park) is still slinging silkysoft sno-cones in about a zillion flavors. My favorite is still the tried-and-true. Go see them. Out by UCF, Ice & Bites doubles down on the creamy goodness with homemade ice cream, sweet, tempting sno and top-notch taiyaki. All of it as Instagramm­able as it is delicious. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream (three locations)

• Runners-Up: Rainbow Sno-Cones (Winter Park) and Ice & Bites Cafe (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Jeremiah’s Italian Ice (various locations)

• Runners-Up: Kelly’s Homemade Ice Cream (three locations) and Greenery Creamery (Orlando) Best German

Want a pretzel? How about some schnitzel? Or spaetzle? They’ve got lots of things that rhyme at Hollerbach’s, which sort of makes sense because it’s fun. This convivial German venue was the center of Sanford before “Sanfording” was a thing. In fact, it was one of the only places

to Sanford back then. Now, Hollerbach’s is in loads of good company, but that’s only served to bring more people through its doors, lured by music, food, the massive “Das Boot” beer ritual and if you’re me, the

bienenstic­h (bee sting cake). Pick some up at the adjacent Magnolia Square Market, where goodies abound. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café (205 E. 1st St. in Sanford; 407-321-2204)

• Runners-Up: Backhaus German Bakery & Deli (Orlando) and Biergarten Restaurant (Epcot) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Café (205 E. 1st St. in Sanford; 407-321-2204)

• Runners-Up: Emmy’s Time Out Tavern (DeLand) and Biergarten Restaurant (Epcot) Best Greek

Delicious, fresh fare — most often enjoyed in delicious, fresh air — is the order at the almost-literally lakeside Greek Corner eatery, with its charming, colorful tile and thick-cut Greek diner fries. Over on the edge of the Hourglass District, families with a split craving can enjoy fantastic family recipes at Theo’s Kitchen, some Greek and some Southern (as in fried chicken) and of course, when you’re looking to scratch that bellydanci­ng itch — watching or doing — you can head to Pointe Orlando’s festive Taverna Opa for a little bump, a little shake and a little lamb. Critic’s Choice • Winner: The Greek Corner (1600 N. Orange Ave. in Orlando; 407-228-0303)

• Runners-Up: Theo’s

Kitchen (Orlando) and Taverna Opa (Orlando) Readers’ Choice

• Winner: Krazy Greek Kitchen (142 W. Lakeview Ave. in Lake Mary; 407-330-7482)

• Runners-Up: The Greek Corner (Orlando) and Taverna Opa (Orlando) Best happy hour

At Luke’s Kitchen and Bar, happy hour runs four hours a day, seven days a week and its brilliant cocktails extend to dessert level, with fun inclusions like a boozy root beer float. Not to mention there are solid bites that range from $1.50-$10. Over at The Ravenous Pig, a menu of $4 beers, $5 cocktails and $6 wines tempt, but the real star in my estimation is the meaty, heaty, juicy smoked wings, which for $6 are a veritable steal of a filling snack to accompany your beverage.

And you know what pairs well with a $6 tequilalac­ed Yucatan Punch? Bugs! That’s right, one of downtown’s most Instagramm­able venues, Reyes Mezcaleria, is also home to the ultimate menu item for gross-out selfies: chapulines. Chipotle-dusted grasshoppe­rs pair well with fruity cocktails and mezcal flights (be warned, though, they’re a tad dry). Critic’s Choice • Winner: Luke’s Kitchen and Bar (640 S. Orlando Ave. in Maitland; 407-674-2400)

• Runners-Up: The Ravenous Pig (Winter Park) and Reyes Mezcaleria (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: The Vineyard Wine Company (1140 Townpark Ave., #1270, in Lake Mary; 407-833-9463)

• Runners-Up: American Social (Orlando) and Tapa Toro (Orlando) Best hotel restaurant

The drinks are sexy (try a barrel-aged boulevardi­er on the balcony), the view is sublime and, if you avoid the rookie move of filling up on Marcona almonds and Medjool dates before entree time, you can graze on small plates and Spanish charcuteri­e before going full baller with the A-5 wagyu or some other topshelf indulgence. Head out to the venue’s 17th-floor patio, take in some fireworks, then choose from an array of unforgetta­ble desserts. Capa sits atop the Four Seasons. You can expect your meal to taste like it belongs here. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Capa (Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, 10100 Dream Tree Blvd. in Orlando; 407-313-7777)

• Runners-Up: Highball & Harvest (Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes) and The Boheme Restaurant (Orlando). Readers’ Choice • Winner: Hamilton’s Kitchen (The Alfond Inn, 300 E. New England Ave. in Winter Park; 407-998-8089)

• Runners-Up: The Boheme Restaurant (Orlando) and Bull & Bear (Orlando) Best Indian

Growing up, my first exposure to Indian food came via Curry Row, a two-block chunk of New

York’s East Village with mismatched strings of flashing lights and prix fixe specials. Many were delicious, none were fancy. Spice Indian Grill isn’t, either, but it’s far less likely to induce seizures (as long as you’re okay with some heat!). I’m content to cram their spicy-garlicky gobi manchurian into my face like cauliflowe­r popcorn at a double feature. The lunch buffet sits at a good price point, but most fans of the fare will likely want to dig deeper into the menu. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Spice Indian Grill (4498 N. Alafaya Trail in Orlando; 321-732-3110)

• Runners-Up: Tamarind Indian Cuisine (Winter Park and Orlando) and Ahmed Indian Restaurant UCF (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Spice Indian Grill (4498 N. Alafaya Trail in Orlando; 321-732-3110 or 407-350-9530)

• Runners-Up: Tamarind Indian Cuisine (Winter Park and Orlando) and Mynt Fine Indian Cuisine (Winter Park) Best Irish

Irish pubs in Orlando? They’re great craic! Fun’s afoot in the form of live music and seriously solid pub fare at the Claddagh Cottage, a convivial, old school-style spot amid the Hourglass District, even though it’s a 2.0 of the original. Raglan Road Disneys things up a bit, naturally, but with rollicking entertainm­ent like theirs — not to mention upscale versions of classics like shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash — you’ll find yourself stomping right along with the dancers. The Harp & Celt is a downtown standard, of course, a phenomenal choice whether you’re in for a quick pint or sticking around for dinner. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Claddagh Cottage Irish Pub (2421 Curry Ford Road in Orlando; 407-895-1555)

• Runners-Up: Raglan Road Irish Pub (Disney Springs) and Harp & Celt Irish Pub & Restaurant (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Fiddlers Green Irish Pub & Eatery (544 W. Fairbanks Ave. in Winter Park; 407-645-2050)

• Runners-Up: Raglan Road Irish Pub (Disney Springs) and Harp & Celt Irish Pub & Restaurant (Orlando) Best Italian

The homey vibes at Il Pescatore are prevalent enough to taste in the eggplant parm, but oh, that toothy, fresh-made pasta at College Park’s Trevi. It’s so good that some people even spoon Nutella over it! I’m not one for that, but the squid ink variety is so flavorful, it barely needs more than a drizzle of oil and a shake of pepper flake. Over at Prato, well, between the cacio e pepe, the big, round meatballs and the tasty pizza (not to mention that Cetriolo cocktail — which I always mention), it remains a top pick. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Il Pescatore (651 N. Primrose Ave. in Orlando; 407-896-6763)

• Runners-Up: Trevi Pasta (Orlando) and Prato (Winter Park) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Antonio’s (611

S Orlando Ave. in Maitland; 407-645-5523)

• Runners-Up: Ciao Italia Ristorante (Orlando) and F&D Woodfired Italian Kitchen (Orlando) Best Japanese

This one comes with good news and bad news. Wa Sushi has some of the most incredible cuts (go for that Grand Sashimi Moriwase) and delicious dishes (tako wasabi, nabeyaki udon) I’ve had in town in ages. The bad news is that just days ago, the restaurant announced it would be moving and is currently scouting for a new location. Feb. 29 will be its last day, but I wanted to be sure it was on your radar. Give them a follow on Facebook to stay on top of it. Meanwhile, over in Altamonte Springs, you’ll enjoy a clean, beautiful space where some seats have lake views at Ootoya Sushi, where inventive rolls, succulent tuna belly and a host of other tasty Japanese dishes await. Hanamizuki is arguably the ramen O.G. of Orlando (but you can only get it at lunchtime). Critic’s Choice • Winner: Wa Sushi (1285 Seminola Blvd. in Casselberr­y; 407-636-3251)

• Runners-Up: Ootoya Sushi (Altamonte Springs) and Hanamizuki Japanese Restaurant (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: A-Aki Sushi & Steakhouse (1400 W. Sand Lake Road in Orlando; 407-888-9545)

• Runners-Up: Seito Sushi & New Japanese (multiple locations) and Kobe Japanese Steakhouse (multiple locations) Best Korean

I wouldn’t wish a cold on anyone, nor would I recommend you venturing out to share the germs with innocent foodies on the west side of town, but if you did have a cold? And someone to run you home some of BBB Tofu House’s silky, spicy, wonderful soondubu? It would be the culinary steam bath you never knew you needed. It’s what I’d tell you to get, but fear not: They’ve got you covered on mainstays like bulgogi and bibimbap, too. And oh, that banchan! Taste ’em all. Critic’s Choice • Winner: BBB Tofu House (5140 W. Colonial Drive in Orlando; 407-723-8299)

• Runners-Up: Kimchi Korean (Oviedo) and The Neighborho­od Eatery (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Korea House (4501 E. Colonial Drive in Orlando, 407-896-5994; 1155 W. State Road 434 in Longwood, 407-767-5918)

• Runners-Up: Izziban (multiple locations) and Seoul Garden Restaurant (Maitland) Best late-night eats

Really, any of these could take the No. 1 slot, but Pom Pom’s is an undeniable Milk District mainstay, with creative combinatio­ns ideal for a post-party mentality — and that’s good, since they’re open around the clock on weekends. Chuan Lu Garden’s massive menu of Sichuan could eradicate any late-night

flavor craving. In fact, either of these could fit neatly into my post-Limelight mop-up memories of the 1990s. Tori Tori, however, is another animal entirely, a sleek, posh, panther of an option where nighttime denizens can enjoy fine, high-end cocktails (remember: it’s a bar!) alongside some stellar eats. Bonus: The late-night happy hour here extends to food. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Pom Pom’s Teahouse & Sandwicher­ia (67 N. Bumby Ave. in Orlando; 407-894-0865)

• Runners-Up: Tori Tori (Orlando) and Chuan Lu Garden Orlando (Mills 50 location) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Gringos Locos (various locations)

• Runners-Up: Santiago’s Bodega (Orlando and Altamonte Springs) and American Social (Orlando) Best Latin

There is nothing fancy about Q’Kenan, but when you walk in for a regular weekday lunch and grab the only open booth in this small Venezuelan restaurant, you’ve scored big because every time I’ve popped in, the joint is jammed or close to it. That’s a testament to the simple, tasty “sandwiches” like the patacon or madurito that replace the bread with green or sweet plantain. Arepas, or even better, cachapas (made with sweet, yellow corn) are the grilled cheese of the gods. Beef, chicken, pork and sausage are worthy, if decadent, add-ins. Over at Marita’s the fresh-made fare can be light (a la grilled shrimp salad) or not (bacon, avocado and cream cheese egg rolls), it’s your call. And at Pio Pio, fresh, reasonably priced Latin fare (oh, that rotisserie chicken) is the order in several locations. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Q’Kenan (8117 Vineland Ave. in Orlando; 407-238-0014)

• Runners-Up: Marita’s Latin Bites (Orlando) and Pio Pio Restaurant (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Mango’s Tropical Cafe (8126 Internatio­nal Drive in Orlando; 321-710-4195)

• Runners-Up: Pio Pio Restaurant (Orlando) and Pal Campo Restaurant (Orlando) Best Mexican

Crisp, clean-lined Mexican fine dining. Janky roadside taco trucks. Everyone has an idea of what’s good. Everyone’s a critic. Not me. Not today. Today, like most days, I am a lover, not a fighter. I salute the things I like, including Black Rooster Taqueria’s pozole (with extra tortilla chips) and pork achiote and guac, Tamale Co.’s velvety, masapowere­d packages of pure love and Garibaldi Mexican Cuisine’s, well, fun! Some days just call for the margarita, the mariachis and the sombrero. And hey, that’s okay. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Black Rooster Taqueria (1323 N. Mills Ave. in Orlando)

• Runners-Up: Tamale Co. Mexican Street Food (Orlando) and Garibaldi Mexican Cuisine (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: F&D Cantina (1125 Townpark Ave. in Lake Mary; 407-915-7012)

• Runners-Up: Garibaldi Mexican Restaurant (Orlando) and Reyes Mezcaleria (Orlando) Best Middle Eastern

It was, quite possibly, years before I made it past the appetizer section of Cafe 34 Istanbul’s menu. Creamy, garlicky haydari

(not to mention creamy, garlicky hummus), flavorful double hits of eggplant in the baba ganoush and shakshuka, lentil balls ’til Tuesday … Add to this a couple of raki, some Turkish tea or coffee and you barely have room for dessert — and you should save room for that kunefe. When I finally tried the lamb chops, it was game, set, match. Best of all: The place is open 24⁄7. So if you can manage to skip all of the above, hit them up for a breakfast of Turkish cheese and olives. At Longwood’s Shiraz Market, you can bring home all kinds of delights, from cookies to dates to honeycomb, but you can also skip the pantry-loading and pop in for stellar kebabs, instead. At Orlando’s longtime fave, the Mediterran­ean Deli, the only thing that surpasses the value and flavor is the warm and grateful greeting you’ll get from one of the best hosts in town. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Cafe 34 Istanbul (8255 Internatio­nal Drive in Orlando; 407-601-7702)

• Runners-Up: Shiraz Market (Longwood) and Mediterran­ean Deli (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Aladdin’s Restaurant (1015 State Road 436 in Casselberr­y; 407-331-0488)

• Runners-Up: Bosphorus Turkish Cuisine (Winter Park and Orlando) and Cedar’s Restaurant (Orlando) Best patio

The view of Lake Jennie Jewel from The Waterfront was just as beautiful back when this SoDo oasis was called Julie’s Waterfront, but man was the menu different. Since Chef Pat Kennedy took the wheel, The Waterfront has taken culinary leaps and bounds while retaining its laidback vibe. Don’t let its nondescrip­t Orange Avenue exterior fool you, there’s a party of a view out back and a killer meal and cocktail (try them at brunch) waiting for you. Critic’s Choice • Winner: The Waterfront (4201 S. Orange Ave. in Orlando; 407-866-0468)

• Runners-Up: Canvas Restaurant and Market (Orlando) and Eden Bar (Maitland) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Hillstone Restaurant (215 S. Orlando Ave. in Winter Park; 407-740-4005)

• Runners-Up: Canvas Restaurant and Market (Orlando) and Grills Lakeside Seafood Deck & Tiki Bar (Orlando) Best pet-friendly restaurant

Does your dog give you the stink-eye when you’re heading out on the town? (Mine does.) Bringing Fido along to some of the city’s best pooch-friendly establishm­ents? Sanford Brewing doesn’t just offer live music, Sanford AF celery beer and damn good skillet mac, they’ve got housemade spent grain biscuits for your good boy (or girl). Wanna tire your bestie out before hitting them up for a cold one? The charming Sanford Paw Park dog park is just a 10-or-so-minute stroll away. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Sanford Brewing Company (400 Sanford Ave. in Sanford; 407-732-6419)

• Runners-Up: 903 Mills Market (Orlando) and The Hammered Lamb (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Yellow Dog Eats (1236 Hempel Ave. in Windermere; 407-296-0609)

• Runners-Up: The Stubborn Mule (Orlando) and Teak Neighborho­od Grill (Maitland and Orlando) Best pizza

I am no pizzaiolo, but I think they might, technicall­y, put a teensy too much cheese on the pizza Calabrese at Francesco’s Ristorante. That’s purely technical because the way the cheese sometimes melts a tad over the crust, the way its salty oils mesh with that of the thin-sliced spicy salami, the way it pools there, just a bit, orange and lovely, like the memory of a folded slice eaten in the street that sometimes results in a stream of the stuff running down your arm … it’s just the best. So, if there are technical errors here, I forgive them all. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Francesco’s Ristorante (400 S. Orlando Ave. in Maitland; 407-960-5533)

• Runners-Up: Pizza Bruno (Orlando) and Vines & Forks (Winter Park) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Torino’s Pizza (2871 Clayton Crossing Way, #1057, in Oviedo; 407-672-0007)

• Runners-Up: Pizza Bruno (Orlando) and Pizzeria Valdiano (multiple locations) Best sandwich

This category broke my heart. So many sandwiches, so little space. Fitting, as this year, the littlest shop gets the biggest seat at the table. Matt Hinckley’s muffuletta is not that of the Central Grocery. It is all his own, as are the rest of his inventive handhelds, like the BLT that gets an extra dose of B with bacon jam. I keep missing that elk patty melt special, but I know it’ll come back around soon, along with a host of tempting new ones. As for Stasio’s, I have to give them a shout-out, not only for their lunch roster of massive heroes, but also for being the first place since Brian’s to put together an exceptiona­lly good facsimile of a New York egg sandwich. And Swine & Sons? They just won $16,000 with one of their sandwiches on the Food Network. ’Nuff said. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Hinckley’s Fancy Meats (East End Market, 3201 Corrine Drive in Orlando; 786-671-1023)

• Runners-Up: Stasio’s Deli (Orlando) and Swine & Sons (Winter Park) Readers’ Choice • Winner: George’s Gourmet Cookies and Catering (501 Orlando Ave., #243, in Winter Park; 407-622-1499)

• Runners-Up: AJ’s Press (Longwood) and Hinckley’s Fancy Meats (Orlando) Best seafood

When Lombardi’s Seafood opened a cafe inside its longstandi­ng fish market a few years ago, a colleague and I rushed over to check it out. Instead of perusing the menu, I walked along the case, peeking in at the fresh catch before turning my attention to the fantastic fish and crustacean creations they were serving. Nice thing about this place: If you’re feeling a bit Key West, you can go Florida grouper, and if you’re feeling New England, you can go lobster roll. Loads of proper sides abound, but I’d save the major real estate for things like jumbo steamed shrimp, freshshuck­ed oysters or the always Instagramm­able whole, fried snapper. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Lombardi’s Seafood (1888 W. Fairbanks Ave. in Winter Park; 407-628-3474)

• Runners-Up: Happy Snapper Seafood Market (Orlando) and Flying Fish (Disney’s Boardwalk) Readers’ Choice • Winner: High Tide Harry’s (4645 S. Semoran Blvd. in Orlando; 407-273-4422)

• Runners-Up: Big Fin Seafood (Orlando) and Reel Fish Coastal Kitchen & Bar (Winter Park) Best soul food

Seems like everyone already knows about Nikki’s Place — the great service, the expansive menu, the generous portions, so I’ll concentrat­e on the rest of the gang. Angel’s Soul Food & BBQ has some of the city’s best fried chicken in a cafeteria-style setup. Same goes for the tiny space P&D Soul Food Kitchen occupies, but the folks here — customers included — couldn’t be nicer. You’ll get multiple greetings (truthfully, the place is so small, it’d be weird if no one said hello) while you wait to order and pay. There are only a few tables in the hall of this plaza, so you might want to have takeout as a backup option. The turkey wings, baked chicken, cabbage and dressing were among my favorites. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Nikki’s Place

(742 Carter St. in Orlando; 407-425-5301)

• Runners-Up: Angel’s Soul Food & BBQ (Sanford) and P&D Soul Food Kitchen (Orlando) Readers’ Choice

• Winner: The Coop (610 W. Morse Blvd. in Winter Park; 407-636-7163)

• Runners-Up: Chef Eddies (catering only: 407-376-8918) and Nikki’s Place (Orlando) Best Spanish

It’s a red and pink feather in the cap of Disney Springs planners, a gorgeous flagship destinatio­n restaurant with art, music and a bell that lets the room know that the chefs have finished preparing yet another pan of sizzling, sumptuous paella. Kinda Pavlovian, but you’d have started drooling when the Jamón ibérico cart showed up at the table, anyway. Jokes aside, this venue’s a stunner, as is its wonderful Spanish cuisine. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Jaleo by José Andrés (Disney Springs)

• Runners-Up: Bulla Gastrobar (Winter Park) and Tapa Toro (Icon Park, Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Santiago’s Bodega (802 Virginia Drive in Orlando; 407-412-6979) • Runners-Up: Bulla Gastrobar (Winter Park) and Tapa Toro (Icon Park, Orlando) Best splurge

Sure, the price tag at Kadence is a little high, but depending on the vibe you and your group are throwing when you sit down at this omakase experience, it may end up feeling more like a fabulous catered party you threw yourself. The culinary expertise here is Jedi level, but so, too, is the chill factor. While the Tasting Room is always fun, the real indulgence is at the Chef ’s Table at the Edgewater, where you should go all in on the experience (three courses) with wine and cheese pairing. And if the price of Epcot admission isn’t enough of a splurge, you may want to check out the Kaiseki experience in Takumi-Tei’s private water room. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Kadence (1809 Winter Park Road in Orlando)

• Runners-Up: Chef’s Table at the Edgewater Tasting Room (Winter Garden) and Takumi-Tei (Epcot) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Victoria & Albert’s (Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, 4401 Floridian Way in Orlando; 407-939-3862)

• Runners-Up: Chef ’s Table at the Edgewater Tasting Room (Winter Garden) and Pharmacy Orlando (Orlando) Best steakhouse

Tried and true is a good look for a steakhouse, and none in this city is moreso than Linda’s La Cantina Steak House, which (and most of you know this) has been serving the community since 1947. Does sleek, high-end decor matter when you can get a perfectly cooked, 16-ounce ribeye — with bread, salad and sides — for roughly $20 less than the steak-only prices at any of its competitor­s? Maybe on a first-date night, but that’s about it. And the other two on this shortlist are well-suited for that. You can even bring your vegan dates to Kres Chophouse, a steakhouse that has a rotating threecours­e, prix-fixe menu (with multiple options) that’s wholly plant-based. Critic’s Choice • Winner: Linda’s La Cantina Steak House (4721 E. Colonial Drive in Orlando; 407-894-4491)

• Runners-Up: Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster (Orlando) and Kres Chophouse (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: The Palm Steakhouse (Hard Rock Hotel at Universal Orlando Resort, 5800 Universal Blvd. in Orlando; 407-503-7256)

• Runners-Up: Linda’s La Cantina Steak House (Orlando) and Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster (Orlando) Best sushi

The best sushi joint in the city underwent culinary mitosis in 2019 to the delight, undoubtedl­y, of sushi fans in the Universal zone. It’s an apt descriptio­n, since Kabooki Sushi chef/owner Henry Moso is a bit of a mad scientist himself, employing a multitude of techniques that make watching the action at his stylish sushi bar almost as fun as eating the surprising and succulent cuts you’ll find plated before you. Oviedo is exploding lately, but that was hardly the case when Sushi Pop opened its doors a stone’s throw from a working sod farm, blessing residents with a local date night spot for which to ditch the shorts and flipflops. Both venues are bright and playful in both food and drink. Can’t pick? Chef ’s choice is a no-lose propositio­n. Sushitomi has neither pink walls nor quirky manga, but sushi lovers around town are often willing to drive a distance to sample from Sushitomi’s real-deal menu in comparativ­ely plain-Jane surroundin­gs. Critic’s Choice

• Winner: Kabooki Sushi (3122 E. Colonial Drive in Orlando; 407-228-3839 and 7705 Turkey Lake Road in Orlando; 407-776-2001)

• Runners-Up: Sushi Pop (Oviedo and Winter Park) and Sushitomi (Orlando) Readers’ Choice • Winner: Bayridge Sushi (400 Savage Court in Longwood; 407-331-0000)

• Runners-Up: Seito Sushi (Baldwin Park and Sand Lake) and Take A Sushi (Orlando) Best tacos

Chef Ryan Manning’s unassuming little shop on Bumby belies his culinary cred, which includes heading up the Ritz-Carlton Cancun’s Culinary Center Team. During his time in

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 ?? SARAH ESPEDIDO/ORLANDO SENTINEL PHOTOS ?? A selection of yakitori is presented at Susuru.
SARAH ESPEDIDO/ORLANDO SENTINEL PHOTOS A selection of yakitori is presented at Susuru.
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 ?? PATRICK CONNOLLY/ORLANDO SENTINEL ?? Breakfast at Briarpatch Restaurant in Winter Park involves raspberry and brie French toast and California benedicts.
PATRICK CONNOLLY/ORLANDO SENTINEL Breakfast at Briarpatch Restaurant in Winter Park involves raspberry and brie French toast and California benedicts.
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 ?? AMY DREW THOMPSON/ORLANDO SENTINEL ?? Bem Bom’s lamb burger: a multiple-napkin culinary experience that might just be perfect.
AMY DREW THOMPSON/ORLANDO SENTINEL Bem Bom’s lamb burger: a multiple-napkin culinary experience that might just be perfect.
 ?? RICARDO RAMIREZ BUXEDA/ORLANDO SENTINEL ?? Tamarind Indian Cuisine in Winter Park
 ?? TREVOR FRASER/ORLANDO SENTINEL ?? At Luke’s Kitchen and Bar in Maitland, happy hour runs four hours a day, seven days a week.
TREVOR FRASER/ORLANDO SENTINEL At Luke’s Kitchen and Bar in Maitland, happy hour runs four hours a day, seven days a week.
 ?? AMY DREW THOMPSON/ORLANDO SENTINEL PHOTOS ?? Cafe 34 Istanbul’s ender lamb chops over rice are served alongside colorful veggies and a spicy, grilled pepper.
AMY DREW THOMPSON/ORLANDO SENTINEL PHOTOS Cafe 34 Istanbul’s ender lamb chops over rice are served alongside colorful veggies and a spicy, grilled pepper.
 ?? SARAH ESPEDIDO/ORLANDO SENTINEL ?? Omakase at Kabooki Sushi features king crab with white truffle cream, truffle pearl and fresh black truffle.
SARAH ESPEDIDO/ORLANDO SENTINEL Omakase at Kabooki Sushi features king crab with white truffle cream, truffle pearl and fresh black truffle.

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